Photography

On our third anniversary, my husband surprised me with a photo shoot. His teammate’s wife was just getting started in her photography business and offered to take pictures of us for free. I am not comfortable in front of a camera but Cat Watson, the photographer, made it really casual and fun. She picked out unique locations that fit our personalities and lifestyle right around our apartment complex.

When she finished taking the pictures that day, I told her that even if we got one good one (where I didn’t have a lazy eye), I’d be ecstatic.

Two weeks later, she dropped off our CD. I couldn’t believe the result of the photos. I loved them! From that moment on I wanted Cat to photograph every event in our lives. I imagined our amazing maternity, baby, family, and even retirement photos.

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Photo by Cat Watson
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Photo by Cat Watson
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Photo by Cat Watson

But then the unthinkable happened.

She moved.

She didn’t just move to another part of town either.

She relocated to CANADA!

How dare she!? I was counting on her to document our lives! Apparently, she didn’t know that the aesthetic beauty of our future homes depended on her photos. How was I going to convince Mark that we needed to fly her back to Raleigh (or wherever we live) for each and every family milestone?

Eventually I got over it (barely). I’m just glad we are fortunate enough to have Alli and Nic in our lives. They don’t have a website for their photography (at least I don’t think they do), but they’re incredibly talented. Photography seems to be a hobby for them but they could easily do it as a profession. I’m excited for our next photo shoot coming soon. (Check out Nic’s twitter account @isnapfotos).

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Photo by Nic and/or Alli
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Photo by Nic and/or Alli

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m actually excited for someone to take my picture now. Yet, the anniversary photos that Cat took convinced me that images are important, especially ones that aren’t of us rigidly posing in a studio. When they capture real smiles, real hand holding, and real glances, they’re different.

After Cat left, I was constantly looking at my surroundings with photo shoots on the brain. Eventually I bought my own DSLR camera and I’ve fallen in love with this hobby. I know I’m an amateur and sometimes I look at a shot and wonder how Cat, Alli, or Nic would have framed it better.

But most of the time I’m simply enjoying this view of the world. Photography is a lot like writing for me.

Instead of a pen, I’m telling a story with a lens.

It’s become my second favorite pastime (or I should say “Evy’s naptime” activity). I love doing photo shoots of friends and family then working with the images in Photoshop and Lightroom. During high school and college, I did a lot of graphic design work while putting together projects and newspaper layouts. Photography has allowed me to resurrect these skills.

Since this blog is a creative outlet for me, I decided to add my photography to the line up. My photo blog is here or at the link on top of this page. If you’re bored one day, give it a scroll. Also, if you would allow me to practice on you and your family, I’d really appreciate the opportunity. You can think of it as giving a mom a much needed escape.

What I really want to say here is a big thank you to Cat for those anniversary photos that sparked this interest in me. Her writing and pictures are an inspiration, especially because she manages to capture beautiful images and write thoughtful prose while tending to three young children.

Check out Cat Watson’s blog and photo website. And if you’re in the Vancouver area, hire this woman. You won’t regret it!

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Beauty at the Bottom

I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately warning mothers of the influence their self-image can have on their teenage daughters. Most of the bloggers say that mothers should exude a sense of confidence in their own beauty, instead of communicate words of insecurity. According to these authors, we should look our daughters in the eyes and say “I am beautiful, and so are you.”

If I heard my mom say this to me when I was in seventh grade, I would have first rolled my eyes and thought, “Mom, you’re old.” (Side note: my mom was the ripe old age of 29 when I was in seventh grade). My second thought would have been “Get over yourself lady.” And lastly, the words “She’s lying” would have gone through my mind.

The reality is that some of us are not genetically blessed according to societal standards. Before braces, I was renting out storage units in the spaces between my teeth. I had a permanent Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid stain on my upper lip. And the array of hair styles I sported, from mullet to boy cut, made for constant speculation into my gender.

When I looked in the mirror I knew I wasn’t beautiful compared to the blond, straight toothed, perfectly proportioned popular girls in school.

But instead of convincing a girl like me that all her so-called blemishes are beautiful, how about we give physical beauty the attention it deserves?

Absolutely none.

By saying “you are beautiful and so am I” to our daughters, we perpetuate the idea that a girl’s ultimate goal is to be attractive.

I realize that these well-intentioned bloggers want the same end result as I do. We all want our daughters to feel confident in the body they were given. Yet, doesn’t any focus on the empty quality of physical beauty lead to the very insecurity we are trying to dissuade?

My point is that every girl discovers what society considers attractive. They may or may not fit into that standard. Either way, if mothers made it a non-issue from the start, maybe girls wouldn’t care so much.

If mothers exuded a sense of confidence in things like their faith, brains, strength, creativity, and compassion, maybe our daughters would place appearance at the bottom of the list.

That’s where something that cannot be cultivated, earned or changed (without considerable costs) belongs.

So, while I wish that every mother would take this point of view regarding beauty, I know that’s not always the case. My daughter may face the same kind of judgement I did when she walks through those middle school doors. If she comes to me wondering why beauty seems to be so important, I hope I can communicate these truths (even though I’ll know she’ll be thinking, “You’re OLD mom!”):

1. A Compliment is Empty Unless it’s Attached to Something. Here are the type of compliments I will try to give that include the word beauty:

You have a beautiful heart for others.

Your faith is beautiful.

The way you encourage your teammates is beautiful.

The unique way you think about the world is beautiful.

You create beautiful paintings.

These compliments are specific and attached to something more than appearance. The words encourage them to grow and cultivate a skill, rather than admire themselves in the mirror.

2. Physical Beauty Fades.  For some women beauty becomes their identity, and when it starts to fade, which it always does, they can’t handle it. Sure, I’m only in my early 30’s so I can’t say how I’ll feel when things start to droop (more than they already have). I hope I accept that my body was not meant to last forever, and focus on the one thing that does – my soul.

3. Your Beauty Comes from Your Creator, Not What You Look Like. I admit there are times when I look at my daughter and think “you’re so beautiful”. But in my mind her beauty doesn’t come from high cheekbones, long lashes, or big eyes. It comes from who she is. The beauty of her existence. She was knit together perfectly and all the changes her form takes along the way are and will be perfect. The bruises, bumps, wrinkles, and asymmetries are all part of her path on this earth, and I hope she embraces them as marks of distinction.

But mostly, I pray that her physical attributes occupy the least of her thoughts.

Same goes for me.

Trader O’s

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Evy’s favorite food is the cereal, Trader O’s. I don’t understand it. The circular shapes are tasteless. Like little crumbs of cardboard. I continue to fill her food tray with flavorful morsels of raspberries, chicken sausage, and cheesy eggs, but she always looks longingly up at the bright yellow box.

Even when she has a handful of O’s in front of her, she still wants more. Evy twists her body and points up at the O’s, which are placed among our other cereals in the kitchen pantry. She excitedly grunts, “mmm, mmm, mmm” as she waits for me to follow her orders. When I don’t comply, she gets frustrated and purses her lips. Her eyebrows come together and she starts to breathe loudly through her tiny nostrils.

I try to reason with her. “Look Evy! You already have some O’s on your tray. Enjoy what you have before you beg for more.”

She gives me her signature scowl and continues to point. “This isn’t enough mom. I want more!” (I imagine her saying).

Recently I’ve realized just how much of a hypocrite I am when I say those words “enjoy what you have before you beg for more.” So many times, instead of savoring the abundance of blessings in my life, I’m pointing at them and asking God for an overflow.

For example, when I was pregnant with Evy, I was fortunate enough to get a couple gift certificates for prenatal massages. Instead of appreciating the moment and allowing my mind to rest, most of the time I was thinking something like “oh sad, she’s already done with my shoulders.”  Or, “this is going by too fast, I should really spring for the longer session next time.”

If I was outside of myself, listening to my thoughts, I’m sure I would give a disapproving glare and say “Look Mick! You’re already getting something you want. Enjoy what you have before you beg for more!”

It’s embarrassing to admit how I can be discontent when getting something as frivolous as a massage. I mean really, close to 2,000 people are dead and thousands have been displaced because a typhoon ravaged through their country. If people in the Philippines heard me complaining about the amount of minutes in my massage, they’d probably slap me across the face.

How can I be discontent when I have shelter, food, family, life, and so much more? Beyond that, how can I be discontent when I don’t deserve any of the things I have? They are all gifts from God.

If I had a tray full of Trader O’s in front of me and each one represented a blessing in my life, the scenario would probably play out similarly to Evy’s snack sessions. I’d pack them all in my mouth to the point where I couldn’t fit another crumb inside, and with my cheeks bulging, I’d point at the box and grunt, “MORE!”

In those moments we forget that many people’s trays are empty. Their cheeks are sunken in and they are opening up their hands and asking for SOMETHING instead of MORE.

I pray that as I teach Evy the value of a contented heart, I can learn to have one too.

I also pray that we can all learn to help those that do, in fact, need more.

Here’s one way to do just that.

Misty

I remember watching the gold medal beach volleyball game in the Beijing Olympics five years ago.

I don’t recall any specific points, amazing digs, or even who Misty May and Kerri Walsh played to win the medals. However, I vividly remember the interview after the match on television. May and Walsh were dripping with sweat, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the victory. They had smiles so big it made my cheeks hurt just watching them. The reporter asked them about the game. All the typical questions like “When did you know the medal was yours?”, “Who carried who through those last points?”, “How does it feel to have two gold medals?”

Then the reporter went on to ask about future plans. “What’s next for the Misty May/Kerri Walsh duo?”

The two women embraced and gave each other a huge, sparkling grin. “Motherhood!”, they exclaimed. Misty May admitted that they both wanted to take some time off to “start a family” and when she returns to the court she “wants to have her kids see her play.”

Fast forward to 2013. Kerri Walsh is the proud mother of three children. Her two boys got to see their mom win another gold medal during the 2012 London Olympic games, and she was five weeks pregnant with her daughter when she sang the anthem and the U.S. flag was raised.

Misty May did not have kids watching her in London. At least not kids of her own.

There may be many different reasons for that. She and husband, professional baseball player Matt Treanor, may have decided not to have children. Maybe Misty wants to focus on her career. I know she recently went back to school to get her Master’s in Coaching and Athletic Administration. She also competed on Dancing with the Stars and has traveled the U.S. giving training camps to young girls and coaches. (Umm, yes I am officially her stalker).

It’s true, Misty could have decided that “motherhood” just wasn’t her thing.

Yet, I can’t help but think back to that interview that took place minutes after accomplishing one of the greatest athletic feats in the world. Even in those victorious moments after the game, she was looking ahead. She seemed so excited to embark on the journey of motherhood alongside her teammate and friend.

Because of this, I thought about Misty a lot when Mark and I struggled to have our first child. I wondered if she went through similar doctor’s appointments. Or if she had moments of the same kind of sadness I felt. Even now I think about Misty as our plans to have a large family are in flux.

I know I’m making wild assumptions about Misty when I pretend that we have parallel lives to any extent. From what I’ve read, it sounds like she’s a very strong woman. She doesn’t allow things to bring her down for long. I’m sure, if she dealt with any of the stuff I’m imagining she went through, that she handled it much better than I did.

Still part of me wants to give her a hug. I have no idea how it would feel to announce something like that to billions of people. I know how it feels to announce happy expectations to a very small network of people and have things not turn out as expected. Let me say, it’s not fun. You know people are doing exactly what I’m doing to Misty in this post. They’re wondering…what happened? Can I ask? Are they working on it?

I should know better. It’s none of my business.

Misty, I apologize, but I do want to thank you for being my imaginary friend throughout these experiences.

I’ll still pray for you and Matt too, and keep anticipating a baby announcement on the Misty May-Treanor Facebook fan page (that I just happen to check on a regular basis).

Okay seriously, I’m creepy…but hopeful.

For them and for us.

The Guilt Trip

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I saw it already. Or at least, I thought I saw it.

Evy using my love for her against me. I know she’s only 10 months, but I swear she’s done it. One time when she fell over and started to cry, I went to get her but she reached for someone else, then gave me the scrunchy face.

Another time, I had been away for the night. The first night separated from her since she arrived. When I rushed in to greet her, I expected elation, a smile, and arms reaching for a hug. What I received were screams. Loud, unbearable, angry screams.

Both times, I could feel my heart shatter.

Part of me wanted to whine, kick my limbs around, and scream, “BUT YOUR MINE! YOU HAVE TO LOVE ME THE MOST!”

I’m glad I had the maturity to stop myself though. It’s a beautiful thing that Evy is social enough to find comfort elsewhere and that she has plenty of people to shower her with love. However, I have to admit, that scrunchy face and the screams were tough. If I’m logical, I realize she doesn’t know any better.

But I can see into the future. And also look back at how I was as a child.

All kids use it.

The guilt trip.

I can foresee a time when Evy will deny me her love because she wants to get back at me. When I leave her alone. When I don’t pick her up after she bumps her head. When I don’t give her a treat. When I take away a toy.

As I think about her reaction in those moments, I can’t help but think about how often we do that to God.

We deny him our love and attention when things don’t go our way. When prayers aren’t answered. When life is hard. When consequences seem unfair. When He takes away what we hold dear.

I believe parenthood gives a glimpse, a very small glimpse, into how this feels. It pains me to see her go through the challenges of growing. I get why she’s frustrated at the world. Every task she attempts has its own obstacles. My love for her is so deep, so big, that I feel her pain and frustration like its my own.

How much more is it like that for God?

Just like a child doesn’t know why growing has to be so difficult, us adults don’t know either. Sometimes we act out in our frustration. We give our Creator the scrunchy face and say “why did you let that happen? why did you do that to me?”

When we do this, God has every right to scream “BUT YOUR MINE! YOU HAVE TO LOVE ME THE MOST!”

But He doesn’t. Even with all the guilt trips. Even when we say He doesn’t care.

His love is deeper. Bigger. Completely unconditional and beyond anything we can fathom.

A love that I’ll never live up to as a mom, but I’m glad I have my heavenly Father to call on for advice when the guilt trips come.

I’m pretty sure He has enough experience with them.

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Before I forget, I want to pay homage to the neighborhood we lived in this past summer.

I’m one of those people that wants to live everywhere, on every continent. I can see myself enjoying a condo in the heart of a city and a rustic farm in the middle of nowhere. Since we were subletting for only three months, the summer in Minnesota was a perfect opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in a true city neighborhood. The home we lived in was on Thomas Avenue in the Hamline/Midway area of St. Paul.

It was everything I dreamed it would be. A trendy coffee shop down the street. Beautiful old church buildings around every corner. Neighborly folks cruising along the city sidewalks. The Como Zoo just a stone’s throw away. A basketball court for Mark to play with the neighborhood guys. And Blooma, my favorite yoga studio, accessible by bike. Perfect.

Evy and I took advantage of the weekdays to explore our temporary home. I think both of us saw many benefits to the city lifestyle. Not only does a city neighborhood offer diversity in its people and surroundings, there’s also a deep sense of community that I never expected. Our fellow house tenants that lived in the downstairs portion of the rental property became true “neighbors” instantly. They let us use their Internet, loaned us Ranch dressing in an emergency, and were always eager to have a “chit-chat”.

I know these kinds of neighbors can be anywhere, but the city forces people to be in close proximity to each other. We could almost touch the house next to us simply by reaching out the window (okay, maybe with a really long stick). Some might shudder at the thought of this. An invasion of their personal bubble.

Truth be told, it can be a real effort for me to be neighborly most days. When I have to walk out to the car in my pajamas right after waking up because I forgot to bring the diaper bag inside, probably the last thing I need is a “chit chat”. My first instinct is to briskly walk by, my head down, with blinders on my periphery. However, because the neighbors were so close this summer, and most of them were wearing their pajamas too, I went against my grain.

Looking back, it felt good to live in a location with people eager to know the person next door. The city life taught me about community. Growing relationships in the place God plants you.

Thanks for making us part of your vibrant neighborhood Hamline/Midway. We hope to see you again someday!

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